Ear­li­er this week, Tova Mirvis wrote about the parts of New York that are buried out of sight and how that relates to her fic­tion and how both nov­el­ists and voyeurs watch oth­er peo­ple, try­ing to uncov­er the hid­den parts of their lives. Her newest nov­el, Vis­i­ble City, will be pub­lished by Houghton Mif­flin Har­court on March 18th. She has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

How is this book dif­fer­ent from all your oth­er books? 

The most obvi­ous answer: in Vis­i­ble City, there are no descrip­tion of Shab­bat or shul, lit­tle grap­pling with reli­gion and com­mu­ni­ty. My oth­er nov­els, The Ladies Aux­il­iary and The Out­side World, were clear­ly Jew­ish nov­els. My sub­ject mat­ter was steeped in ques­tions of Jew­ish belong­ing and iden­ti­ty, belief and doubt. In the ongo­ing pan­el dis­cus­sion debates about who is or isn’t a Jew­ish writer, I always felt com­fort­able say­ing I was cer­tain­ly one. I didn’t feel the label as lim­it­ing, didn’t think it pre­scribed me in any way, but it did describe the place I was writ­ing from, the world from which my imag­i­na­tion sprung.

There was no clear cut choice then, back when I was writ­ing my first two books, to write a specif­i­cal­ly Jew­ish nov­el. I wrote from what moved me, pre­oc­cu­pied me, fas­ci­nat­ed me. I wrote out of my own grap­pling with my Ortho­dox Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, a world which has shaped so much of who I am. My Jew­ish self has always been inex­tri­ca­ble from my writ­ing self.

And then here too, when I start­ed writ­ing Vis­i­ble City, there was no explic­it deci­sion to write a dif­fer­ent kind of book, no moment when I decid­ed I was going to write a book with less Jew­ish con­tent. I start­ed Vis­i­ble City with­out being sure where I was going. Each piece led me to the next, one inter­est kin­dling anoth­er, one char­ac­ter cre­at­ing the need for anoth­er. There were Jew­ish parts that I arrived at along the way – one char­ac­ter was raised Ortho­dox but no longer is and this leave-tak­ing impacts the choic­es he makes in the nov­el. Through­out the book, many of my char­ac­ters are Jew­ish, though this isn’t men­tioned explic­it­ly. (Aca­d­e­mics, lawyers and ther­a­pists on the Upper West Side. You don’t need to tell us that they are Jew­ish. We know! Said one of my ear­ly readers.) 

For a time, I thought that the book would round some bend, become more specif­i­cal­ly Jew­ish. But as the months and then the years of writ­ing went by, the book con­tin­ued to take me in dif­fer­ent direc­tions. Every book is a sur­prise, to the writer as much as to the read­er. I arrived at under­ground explor­ers, his­tor­i­cal preser­va­tion. I arrived at stained glass win­dows, an art form I’d always asso­ci­at­ed with church­es and which I was lit­tle inter­est­ed in. But now, I fell in love: the abun­dance of col­or, the intri­ca­cy of the work, the vary­ing col­ors illu­mi­nat­ed depend­ing on how the light shines through.

In a nov­el too, there are the parts that more eas­i­ly catch the light, parts that are less clear­ly evi­dent. Even in a nov­el that is osten­si­bly about oth­er things, where my Jew­ish iden­ti­ty and inter­ests are less promi­nent, I feel the Jew­ish part of myself present here as well. 

In par­tic­u­lar, I see it here in my inter­est in the way the indi­vid­ual relates to the group, in the way we shape our­selves to match out­side expec­ta­tions. But more than that, on the instinc­tive gut lev­el from which writ­ers write, my Jew­ish­ness is part of every­thing I write. It’s entrenched inside me, a per­ma­nent part of my eye even as I look out at oth­er worlds. All of us, we write from the mix of shapes and col­ors inside us, the mosa­ic of our per­son­al and fam­i­ly his­to­ries, from our own expe­ri­ences and from the expe­ri­ences that live in our imag­i­na­tions. Like the stained glass win­dows I’ve come to love, a nov­el is an assem­blage of blaz­ing col­ors, the indi­vid­ual pieces of who we are vis­i­ble at dif­fer­ent times, depend­ing on the light.

Tova Mirvis is the author of three nov­els, Vis­i­ble City, The Out­side World and The Ladies Aux­il­iary, which was a nation­al best­seller. Her essays have appeared in var­i­ous antholo­gies and news­pa­pers includ­ing The New York Times, The Boston Globe Mag­a­zine, and Poets and Writ­ers, and her fic­tion has been broad­cast on Nation­al Pub­lic Radio. She lives in New­ton, MA with her three chil­dren. Vis­it her web­site here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: Essays: On Writ­ing Jew­ish Lit­er­a­ture and Being a Jew­ish Writer

Tova Mirvis is the author of three nov­els: Vis­i­ble City, The Out­side World, The Ladies Aux­il­iary, a nation­al best­seller, and the mem­oir The Book of Sep­a­ra­tion. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe Mag­a­zine, and Poets and Writ­ers, and her fic­tion has been broad­cast on NPR. She lives in New­ton, Massachusetts.